Chapter Three - Quickdive

Liara had put off returning to the Normandy for so long. If not for her beloved's insistence, she would have avoided the subject of returning altogether, guilt keeping her at an arm's length from the rest of the Normandy's crew.

Two years.

Two years she had gone into hiding, building an information network from scratch, with only her wits, her brief combat training, the credits Shepard had left behind for her, and a cool, calculated ruthlessness that she didn't think she possessed, keeping her from drowning in this previously unexplored, underground reservoir of knowledge, open only to those who were willing to shed their innocence—and willing to shed the blood of others.

She remembered reading stories of Garrus's various endeavours, having found a dossier of Archangel in the Shadow Broker's lair. She also remembered receiving messages from the former C-sec officer, dispelling some of the more incredulous stories the broker's agents had on him. In retrospect, she was much like him in a way, an angel of death, leaving a trail of the dead wherever she went. Unlike Archangel, however, she had no such illusions of ridding the world of unsavoury characters. Anyone who stood in her way was removed. It was as simple as that.

...How could Shepard continue to love her, with so much blood in her hands?

She even found herself reprehensible for crying out loud! Swindling people, manipulating them into doing favours for her, threatening their loved ones, twisting arms, breaking arms, even seducing a woman or two for her ends—a slew of wrongdoings that weighed heavily against her soul, a dark stain against the once-clear glass heart encased within her: that very same glass heart that Shepard had shattered into a thousand tiny fragments, first by denying her in Ilos, second, by dying on her just two years before.

And yet here she was, drawn to Shepard, like a moth to a bright flame.

"Let's take it slow," the commander had practically begged after finally confessing to her, to Liara, to the Shadow Broker, who did not know the meaning of compromise, who was still so madly in love with her, who lusted after her worse than a dog in heat, who could easily destroy those who denied and scorned her. "Let's take it slow," Shepard had asked, and Liara had complied, reining in her overwhelming desire and shutting it firmly in a cage.

For Shepard, anything.

Nodding her thanks to Garrus, who had been more than happy to drag her along the ship's various areas, introducing her to all of Shepard's people, she stepped into the elevator and pressed the button to bring her to the captain's cabin.

Apprehension instantly settled on her like a second skin, replacing the disgust she had formerly felt. Would the commander be happy to see her? Well, of course she would be; already, Liara could feel the faint glow of Shepard's affection for her, even floors away. But what would she do once she was in her beloved's presence? Would they talk about New Ilos once more? The commander was becoming increasingly invested in her projects with her growing team aboard the dreadnought, now that the Collector Base had been destroyed. Perhaps the commander wished to show her something that she could not show Liara in Hagalaz. Certainly that seemed plausible.

Setting aside her heavy heart, she took a deep breath and allowed a smile to grace her features as she entered the commander's living quarters.

"Did you enjoy the tour, Liara?"

For once, Liara found herself incapable of answering.

"Did you not like the ship?" Shepard fretted, putting down the glass of wine she had been nursing for half an hour. "Did Joker mention anything about Vaenia? Because if he did, I am going to hack into his private terminal, and-and replace his porn stash with some male batarian slash!"

"Vaenia? You mean that asari-human porn video...?" Liara asked after finally recovering from her initial shock. "How did you—?"

Shepard looked away and shifted uncomfortably, one hand pressing against her chest in an attempt to hide her somewhat revealing bosom. "I ah, I took the liberty of doing some research," she mumbled embarrassedly.

It was then that Liara became keenly aware of their immediate surroundings. On the table were two glasses of wine, barely touched, the electronics that had probably populated it now cluttering Shepard's desk. A soft, melancholy melody played in the background, the slow drum beats like a pulsating heart.

And Shepard. By the Goddess, Liara didn't think she even had something so tantalizing in her wardrobe. The woman wore a cocktail dress that hugged her curves and showed her well-muscled arms quite well. The wide-collared neckline emphasized her slender neck and her strong jaw line, stirring the pent-up desire that Liara had tried to ignore for so long.

She met Shepard's shy, fearful gaze with her own wide, disbelieving one. Dazed, she found that she could no longer distinguish her emotions from Shepard's, confusion fogging her thoughts, the convoluted feelings she and Shepard had spilling into each other, tides of emotions swelling and joining together, curling against each other affectionately and twisting into untidy knots. Her fear was Shepard's fear. Her apprehension was Shepard's apprehension. Her love was Shepard's love. Shortening the distance between them, she pulled Shepard in a fiery kiss, pressing her commander against the first surface that she could find—which just so happened to be Shepard's bed—until even their bodies were no longer distinct to her.

It was ironic how easily her restraints, which she had painstakingly rebuilt from the ruined altar that caged her heart, were swept away by the tide of Shepard's desire—or was it hers? She could no longer tell. Only the sudden flash of panic jolted her out of her voracious exploration of Shepard's body, blowing away the fog of senselessness that pervaded her muddled mind.

Fear mirroring fear, Liara asked in a husky half-whisper, "Should I stop?" Unexpectedly, she felt the need to deliver an apology tinged with regret. But why should she apologize? Was it because she was being so forward with her lust for Shepard? And the regret? What could she possibly regret?

Shepard's lips mapped the contour of her jaw with chaste, burning kisses, even as her hands insistently tugged at Liara's armour, uncertain of how to undress her. "I'm sorry," Shepard spoke earnestly in between kisses. "I'm sorry I could not give you what you wanted sooner."

Remembering the momentary panic Liara had experienced earlier, she reluctantly drew away from Shepard's light touches. "If you are not ready, this can wait." Liara gulped down the feeling of disappointment and insisted, "I can wait."

Shepard's fierce, loving gaze stole her breath, clogging her throat with fierce emotions of her own. "I want this too."

"Then what troubles you, my love?" Liara croaked, and felt her beloved's fingers brushing away the tears that slid across cheeks the colour of lapis lazuli.

"I'm scared," Shepard admitted. "I'm scared that I cannot please you—that I am an insufficient lover. That however much I prepare, it all amounts to nothing because I have no experience in romance, and I only wish to experience you."

"Such valiant words," Liara laughed. "Do you really think that I am that superficial?" She examined her beloved's exceedingly miserable expression and sensed that there was something more veiled underneath Shepard's confession. "Do you trust me?"

Eyes shining with adoration looked up and brought with it a fresh wave of desire. "Always."

Dipping her head to taste Shepard's lips once more, Liara reached for the fleeting sorrow that Shepard tried in vain to dismiss, caressing it gently with her own single-minded devotion for the commander, burning away every hidden hurt, every subtle fear, and every aching insecurity with the fire of her passion. "Then let me show you eternity."


Shit, shit, shit. This wasn't supposed to happen. Shepard had given him a job to do, and he wasn't about to fuck that up just 'cause he'd been too busy crowing like a greenhorn who'd just shot his first buck. Without thinking, he jumped off the barricade, grabbing Liara and activating the Foucault currents to protect his armour from the intense heat below. It was too bad, actually; he hadn't listened to Shepard's advice about wearing his helmet to Menae. If he had, perhaps his barrier fortifications could protect his head from the flames too.

"You idiot," a silky voice whispered in James's ear, startling him. He pulled away and looked at Liara incredulously, only just realizing that the Foucault currents bathing his body in a golden glow also had a blue sheen over them.

They landed gently on the mound of burning flesh, several metres away from the enraged brute howling in pain at the onslaught of bullets it was receiving from the mounted turret. James pulled away from their awkward embrace and ducked his head in embarrassment. "Sorry, Blue."

The doctor gave a nonchalant hum and concentrated on the brute now charging towards them. She clenched her fist and threw a biotic sphere at it before pulling James behind a rocky outcrop, the biotic field that kept the flames at bay following them as they moved away from the brute. Recovering from his initial shock, James grabbed a hand grenade from his belt and threw it at the brute before ducking for cover. "You alright, James?" Garrus asked from their shared comm. link.

"Aside from my injured pride, I think I'll live," James growled sardonically and grinned as he heard the death throes of the brute from another warp Liara had used. "Hey, Blue, think it's about time we kill these flames? I don't know about you, but I'm sticky with sweat here, and I just might be tempted to assault you with visions of my bare chest if we keep these flames up any longer."

"A most unpleasant image, I'm sure," Liara said dryly. The radius of her biotic field expanded, covering the entirety of the battlefield and snuffing out the roaring fires that had completely devoured the corpses of their enemies and allies both. To Corinthus, she asked, "Have you found the primarch yet?"

"Our tower might be operational, but I can't say the same for the other outposts," Corinthus answered wearily. "It appears that you'll have to go look on foot if you wish to find our new primarch. Otherwise, we'll be waiting here for a while until my men can get the other towers working again."

"Understood, General," Liara replied, equally tired. "Come, Garrus, James, let's find us a primarch."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

With Garrus taking the lead and James taking up the rear, they moved through the snaking path towards the next closest outpost, the jeering cries of the Reapers punctuating their shared silence. James, for his part, watched the scenery cautiously, masking his embarrassment with paranoia. As an Alliance soldier, he had very little experience fighting alongside other species. How was he supposed to know that Liara could take care of herself? He wasn't aware that natural biotic users could float to the ground, nor was he aware that they could create a shield powerful enough to stop the flames from reaching them. He was a marine, damn it, and marines don't just turn the other way when one of their teammates was in trouble!

Images of Fehl came rushing back to him, making him cringe inwardly. He was a soldier, not a damn leader for crying out loud! Making a choice between the intel and the people he was tasked to protect? Shouldn't have been his to make in the first place. He joined the Alliance to save people—to do some good—not so that he had to make the hard decisions.

Is that why you'd rather stay with Shepard and her crew than go back to Earth? Because around them, you're just another soldier? Because you don't want to be held accountable for your actions? What are you—a twelve-year old brat who wants his own life but doesn't want to take responsibility for it?

He was almost glad when a handful of husks appeared, climbing upwards from a nearby cliff. Unfortunately for James, they were not much of a distraction with his M-96 Mattock tearing them apart before they could even take a few steps away from the cliff. "How are you getting supplies to Menae?" James asked curiously, after taking account of his thermal clips which would soon run out due to his Mattock's lower reserve capacity.

"Interestingly enough, the Reapers are targeting civilian sectors over industrial ones," Garrus answered amiably, "so most of our colonies that are now supplying weapons and ships haven't tasted the brunt of a Reaper attack yet. I've heard reports that some have experienced fighting against husks, not just the foot soldiers that we've been encountering, but other mutations of them as well, but they haven't had much success in disrupting our rate of production."

"A foolish strategy," James noted.

"Or a very smart one," Liara countered. "Attacking the civilian areas can be very demoralizing, particularly when the Reapers don't appear to be faltering with their attacks. What is the point of producing more when your population is dwindling? They might be trying to dissuade the people from struggling by showing them how hopeless the entire situation is."

"'Submit to your fate,' huh?" Garrus sighed. "Sounds like the Reapers alright. I'd call them arrogant, except..."

"Except the odds are in their favour," James supplied. "We're not going to win this war, are we?"

"Not if you keep thinking like that, Mr. Vega," Liara teased.

"I believe in Shepard," Garrus reinforced, his words like a mantra to James. "She'll find us a way."

"Santa Madre," James murmured, "I hope you're right."

They didn't encounter any more of those damnable husks after reaching a crash site with two turians loitering nearby. Not that James cared. He was running out of ammo for his Mattock, and his Raider wouldn't hold out for long if they get swarmed. Besides, the husk infantry—or Reaper fodder as he preferred to call them—were not much of a challenge. It was just their numbers that could be considered a problem, particularly to an ill-trained unit. Although these ones look like they fought with something bigger than a scrawny husk, James thought as he examined the two turians still standing. Had they survived the crash-landing of the fighter ship nearby? Or were they just there to check for survivors? James wondered.

"Have you seen General Victus?" Garrus asked, crouching besides the unconscious turian, scanning the body with his omni-tool.

"Half hour ago, heading south," one of them replied with a salute.

"Will you be alright here?" Liara inquired, holstering her gun and taking a look at the stunned turian as well.

"We'll be fine," his companion promised. "We're just doing a sweep of the area per Victus's orders. We need all the resources we can get, be it med supplies, thermal clips, or survivors."

"A sound idea," Garrus agreed. "Well, it looks like our friend will survive. I'd say head back to General Corinthus's camp. It's much safer there and they need all the reinforcements they can get. You'll be welcomed warmly."

"Thank you, sir." They began methodically stripping away their comrade's armour to easily mobilize him back to their camp. It was strange for James to see a turian without his battle armour, strange to see the seemingly fragile limbs underneath, despite the carapaces jutting out, surrounding the chest and the back. He consciously turned away, feeling like an intruder who was not supposed to be privy to such a casual display of vulnerability.

They moved through another, somewhat straightforward path towards the outpost, and almost ran into a one-man fighter that crashed just a few metres away. "That's a little closer than I'd like," Garrus shouted, stumbling into Liara.

"I'll say," James agreed, watching the smoke billowing from the fighter plane. "Crash like that, death would've been instantaneous."

"Oh Goddess," Liara breathed unhappily. "I wish there was something we could do to help."

"We move on," Garrus spoke grimly. "We find the primarch. Hopefully, we find a way to end this war too."

"Spoken like a true optimist," James remarked.

Garrus laughed. "No, kid, you just haven't seen what Shepard is capable of doing."

"Oh? Because I don't see the krogans or the batarians joining the summit," James countered. "I don't know about you, but they're tough sons of bitches, and I'd like to have a few fighting on our side when the time comes."

"The batarians aren't exactly too happy after what Shepard did to their home planet. I hear some are still crying for her execution—even though she's probably the best thing that we have as a leader right now. Besides, with most of the hegemony gone, their people are scrambling to fill the sudden power vacuum. Unless they can get their balls together, I doubt they'll be of much use to us."

"The krogans, on the other hand, have yet to forgive the turians and the salarians for giving them the genophage."

"The salarians designed it." Garrus argued defensively.

"Your people helped disperse it though," Liara reminded him. "Still, James has a point. If this summit must work, we will need more than the asari, the turians, the humans and the salarians to fight against the Reapers."

"Makes you think having a Council is actually kind of counterproductive," James quipped, inwardly pleased that Liara had agreed with him. "I mean, the Council is supposed to represent everyone in Council space, but it seems to me like it only represents the entitled."

"Of which humanity is a part of," Garrus added.

"Really?" James laughed. "Because it doesn't feel that way to me. We're like an unhappy afterthought in your grand Council. You claim that we have a place in it, but it doesn't mean we belong."

"They did deflect Councillor Udina and Shepard's request for aid." Liara acknowledged.

"What really bothers me though isn't that. I mean, for all that the Council represents unity between all of the different species under its jurisdiction, it seems to me that the only thing that they're really unified about is making sure that we don't cooperate with each other. It's like they're afraid that having a more centralized power is going to"—James waved his hands helplessly—"break their power or sommat."

"You mean they're afraid that if they all agree to follow Shepard, they'll have to defer to her judgement," Garrus clarified, "thus losing whatever power they held as leaders of the Council."

"Yeah, what you said. But in prettier words." James pouted. Shaking his head, he let out a doleful sigh and scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "I just think that, as things are, we can't really rely on the Council to solve this-this Reaper problem. They're too divided, too involved in their own self-interests, and too used to the power dynamics to realize that without a central leader to follow, they're not going to get anywhere. As we are, we're not fighting to save the galaxy. We're just fighting to save our own damn hides."

"Well said," Garrus cheered, slapping James's back lightheartedly. "Have you ever considered going into media, Vega? I bet you'd make a great public speaker."

"Maybe we should get Allers to interview you sometime," Liara teased.

"Oh hell no. I wouldn't touch that woman with a fifty-foot pole!" James looked bewildered. "No offense, but she kind of freaks me out. It's-it's that outfit! Have you seen the way it just clings to her—! And, and the way the-the—!" He let out a frustrated growl. "Look, I'm just sayin' that she's not wearing proper military regs, and her tits are showing. Dios mios I just said the damn word, didn't I?"

Their laughter at James's expense was cut short by the sound of heavy fire coming from around the bend. "Double time, people," Garrus roared, charging on ahead with Liara and James trailing silently from behind. They entered through the broken-down barricade and found cover after almost running into a barrage of bullets from the enemy.

James, who caught a glimpse of these new husks that were actually shooting at them this time, yelped as a bullet grazed his cheek. "What the hell are those things?"

"They look like turians," Liara said worriedly.

"And the other ones look like even uglier versions of the batarians," James said, squinting through the haze of gun-smoke and rubble flying everywhere. "I guess that's what they're doing to our bodies once they're done with us." He spat on the ground in disdain and climbed up from his cover, rushing towards the next available one he could find to get a better shot at them with his AT-12 Raider. He felt the hair on the back of his neck tingle and saw Garrus sending power surges at the turian lookalikes, stunning them briefly.

"James, Garrus," Liara called, sounding slightly worried.

"What's wrong, Blue?"

"Three more of t-those brutes," the asari stammered, pointing towards three towering monsters lumbering in the distance.

James heard Garrus curse and saw him scramble towards them. "They'll be a bitch to kill inside this cramped compound. We need to draw them out and deal with them if we want to minimize casualties."

"Easier said than done."

"James, how many frag grenades do you have?" Garrus asked.

"Three, although I could find more if need be," James answered, detaching the three grenades from his belt.

"See those jutting spines from their backs?" The two nodded. "If we could lodge a grenade within the curve of their backs, it might weaken their armour and draw their attention to us."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Then find a way to get its damn attention." Garrus turned to peer through his sniper rifle to examine the brute a second time. "If we sever the head from its body, we might be able to kill it—might considering at this point, we don't know if their heads are a tactical weakness."

"Maybe if they start screaming 'brains', that'll be a good indicator," James muttered.

"What?"

"A human joke."

"Right," Garrus drawled ironically. He took the other two grenades from James and handed one to Liara. "Distract them and get them away from Victus's men. If we can get them out of the compound, even better."

"And how do you plan to kill them? Douse them with gasoline and set them on fire? Because the last time we did that on one of them bastards, it took a while to take them down. That, and I'd rather not feel unnecessarily alarmed at the possibility of burning to death or accruing a number of ugly scars on my rugged visage. We already have one heavily scarred character in this epic space opera. I wouldn't want to play second fiddle to you."

"You really are exceedingly vain," Liara observed.

"Well, as much as I would love to continue this witty banter," Garrus interrupted, "those brutes aren't going to just sit down and join our bloody tea party and exchange verbal ripostes with us any time soon."

"Yeah, yeah, I get the feeling they're a lot more refined than that," James added mockingly. He nodded at the two of them and shot down three irritating turian-husks that had been gunning at them for a while now. "Don't wish me luck. I'd hate to have to tell you that I don't need it and waste your breath on good intentions."

"Is he always like this?" Garrus asked exasperatedly.

"Oh he can be much worse, I assure you." Liara replied, smiling at her old friend. "He had the gall to flirt with Shepard while I was around."

"Ah," was all Garrus had to say to that last comment. Shaking his head wryly, he slipped his sniper rifle back into its magnetized holster at his back so that he could move more freely. Turning on his omni-tool, he thanked the spirits that he had the forethought to ask Mordin for some upgrades, allowing him the ability to generate a flaming projectile, aptly called, 'incinerate(.exe)'. Scrambling closer to one of the brutes, he yelled, "Hey, you mountain of ugly, have a mouthful of this!" Two discs shot out of his omni-tool, exploding into a burst of flame as they hit their intended target. The brute howled angrily and turned its attention towards him, its hind legs tensing as it moved into a charging position. Garrus stumbled backwards, fumbling with the grenade he was about to throw at the brute, and slammed into a turian-husk aiming for him. Switching his omni-tool's function to produce a sharp blade, he twisted his torso and grabbed the turian-husk's shoulder with his free hand, slamming the blade straight into the turian-husk's throat. He pushed the dead husk away and jumped ungracefully to the side, rolling against some crates as the brute ran past him. Feeling something digging against his shoulder, he pushed himself to his feet and picked up the strange-looking device leaning against the crate.

What the heck is this?

"Fuck! Let go of me," Garrus heard James growl from afar. He saw the two other brutes advancing towards James with Liara trying to get the third brute to let go of their cocky marine. "You think I'm scared of you, you motherfucking zombie tank?" James managed to free one of his arms and turned on his omni-tool. He twitched his fingers to activate one of his omni-tool's functions and moved his forearm so that it was facing the brute's face. "Say cheese!" A blinding flash finally convinced the brute to let James go and crash into one of its allies. Seeing their chance, Liara and James threw their frag grenades at their intended targets, before moving towards the other direction, looking for cover as Garrus's plan continued to fall apart. Belatedly, the scarred turian remembered the grenade he was carrying and sighed. Right, he had forgotten to throw that in his haste to dodge the brute's attack. His eyes fell on the strange-looking weapon again. From its similarity to a Reaper leg, it was most likely a Reaper weapon. Should he use it?

"Garrus, we can't draw it out of the compound," James growled through the comm. link. "We've managed to get it as far as we could from the other soldiers, but the barricade isn't big enough for these damn fuckers to squeeze through."

"Having them destroy the barricade to get to us isn't a viable option either. It's quite likely that they'll grow disinterested and look for other prey if we try."

"Noted," Garrus spoke, eyeing the three lumbering freaks of nature. "Now, will you two do me a favour and find some cover? Preferably, far away from those brutes?"

He adjusted the magnification of his eye visor and raised the Reaper weapon, pointing it in the middle of the three brutes. "Here's hoping it works," he muttered to himself and squeezed the trigger.


I am bone-weary. Liara thought as she exited the Kodiak, storing her weapons back in her locker before heading for the elevator with Garrus and Primarch Victus. Oh Goddess, what I would give to go back to my room, change into some fresh clothes—maybe borrow Shepard's ridiculously comfortable N7 sweatshirt—and slip into darkness's sweet embrace until the next time Shepard needs me for a mission.

But that was unlikely to happen. She was the ship's XO now and that meant more responsibilities—like keeping the Council informed of their various activities in the absence of the Commander. Why did I sign up for this again? Shepard appeared unbidden in her mind. Right, Liara thought smiling slightly, the benefits.

"We need to keep a thorough documentation of how to deal with those Reapers and their ground forces. We cannot continue to fight them with conventional methods and hope to win. If this war summit is to be successful, we need to establish communication lines with the other species and share information. Otherwise, we might face enemies that we are completely unprepared for."

"Understood, sir."

"Specifically, I'd like you to include information concerning that Reaper weapon you found and its devastating effects within a five-metre blast radius. If more of their foot soldiers are carrying those damnable things, then our people will have to find a way to take those from them. Not only would that be advantageous for us—as you've managed to prove by killing those brutes earlier—but doing so can also prevent the loss of more lives."

"If I may," Liara interrupted. "I believe my agents will be quite reliable in dispersing the information. As you know, our communication buoys are not always reliable, especially with the Reapers destroying whatever is in their path. Agents that are often on the move, however, are more likely to be able to bring key information to other areas."

"An interesting offer, Shadow Broker," Garrus stated lightly. "However did you become so competent?"

"Only if you'll tell me how you managed to acquire those compromising images of the Normandy's previous tenants?" Liara quipped in that same innocent tone. "With your visor perhaps?"

"Touché."

Victus coughed politely. "I would appreciate it if you can do just that, Liara."

"Liara, you are not going to believe what just happened." Joker spoke excitedly from the intercom. "Can you spare a few minutes and come up here? Oh, and you have a call from Councillor Tevos, but I put her on hold and let her listen to Pachelbel's Canon in an infinite loop while waiting for you."

"Pachelbel's Canon?" Victus inquired dryly.

"Another human joke, Primarch," Garrus reassured him. "Or well, I think it's a joke. You can never tell with our pilot sometimes."

"Well I for one hope it is," Liara muttered after briefly reacquainting her palm with her forehead. "The asari Councillor is as humourless as I am blue."

"That's a really deep hue of humourless then."

Liara simply gave him an unimpressed look before leaving them behind to visit Joker in the ship's helm. From the relaxed stances of the crew nearby, it seemed as if the Normandy's systems were back to normal. Had Shiala managed to solve the problem then? Certainly it was plausible, though admittedly, Liara hadn't pegged Shiala as the type who could fix problems pertaining to starship machinery and its various complexities. Not that I know much about her to begin with, Liara thought, a sudden ache in her chest. Or any of Mother's other followers.

When she entered the bridge, her initial impulse was to reach for the M-6 Carnifex that was not currently attached to her waist. "Is this your idea of a joke?"

"I'm not sure," EDI answered from the co-pilot seat. "Besides Joker's bitter self-deprecating one-liners and his tendency to provide me with unhelpfully insincere statements that tend to mean the opposite of what he is actually stating, I have had very little experience in verbal repartees, I'm afraid."

"You are in Dr. Eva Coré's body," Liara stated.

"You can say that I am currently in control of it, yes," EDI replied. Liara wondered if there was a hint of smugness in her tone or if she just naturally spoke like that.

"And how did you manage to do just that?"

"I was scanning the body for whatever extraneous information I could find on Cerberus. In doing so, I had triggered a trap, activating the backup power source and CPU which then caused this unit to attempt a physical confrontation with my core. Suffice to say, it was unsuccessful."

"She managed to gain root access to it and repurposed the body to suit her needs," Joker clarified, "which is pretty cool, if you were ever to ask for my humble opinion."

"Did you help her?"

"Me?" Joker huffed. "If I was helping her, you'd be the first to know! Heck, I'd bake a cake and risk venturing into Chakwas's territory just to congratulate her!"

"Why didn't you ask the crew for help, anyway?"

"You were busy leading the ground team to rescue the Primarch," EDI explained, "and your people would have been limited by organic reaction time; thus I decided that this was the best course of action. Was I wrong?"

Liara sighed. "I just keep thinking, 'what would Shepard do in this situation?'"

"She'd probably start by rambling on about the advantages and disadvantages of 'organic' help," Joker said cheerfully, "after which she'd want to run tests on EDI's body, put upgrades on it, and briefly entertain the idea of building EDI a backup unit."

"Likely," Liara agreed. "Well, I don't really know what to say, EDI."

"How about letting her come with you on one of your missions, Liara?"

Their XO resisted the urge to sigh again. "I don't know. I have very limited knowledge of mechs and I'd prefer it if we wait for Shepard to return before we consider what EDI can do with her new body."

"Understood."

Liara gave them a curt nod and exited the helm. Just outside, near the airlock, she found Shiala leaning against the wall, a disinterested look on her viridian face. The matron straightened and bowed her head slightly in a show of respect. "You've returned."

"So I have." Liara massaged her forehead and beckoned for Shiala to follow her. "I take it, you were the first to see EDI in her new body?"

"I went to the AI core, just as your pilot suggested, and took the proffered gun one of your crew had given me in case we had to fight the rogue Cerberus agent again." Shiala clasped her hands behind her back and trailed obediently, a step behind Liara. "I am just glad that I did not have to fight anyone. My skills in the art of combat are rusty and my biotics are still unwieldy at best."

Liara gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "And what are your impressions on EDI?"

"I heard that she was crucial in fighting off the Collectors who tried to commandeer your commander's ship. But you can never tell with artificial intelligence. The geth, after all, initially sided with Saren two years ago, and there are reports that some geth have been seen fighting organics again in certain areas in Terminus space, even after your commander tried to rewrite the ones that you call 'heretics'. Clearly, she is just as morally ambiguous as others of our race are. I will reserve my opinion on her until I know her better."

They entered the War room and went past the new turian primarch to the comm. area where Councillor Tevos awaited.

"Dr. T'soni?" The asari councillor seemed genuinely surprised. "I—Shepard isn't here, is she?"

"She's in Rannoch, ensuring galactic stability. I believe it is one of her duties as a Council Spectre?"

"W-well, the Terminus systems are not part of our jurisdiction," Councillor Tevos countered.

"That hasn't stopped you from meddling before," Liara replied, keeping an impassive front. "Please, Councillor, denying would only further lengthen this conversation. You have your duties, and I have mine as the Shadow Broker."

"You have been spying on us!"

"I would not be doing my duty correctly if I did not familiarize myself with the previous Shadow Broker's various data logs and information on high-profile individuals." Liara regarded the councillor's hologram coolly. "If it pleases you, Councillor, perhaps we may revisit this topic another time? I'm sure Councillor Sparatus will be overjoyed to hear that we have secured the primarch."

"That is good to know," Councillor Tevos replied, her expression equally frosty. "How is Primarch Fedorian?"

"Unfortunately, Primarch Fedorian is dead. Primarch Victus will, instead, lead the war summit."

"I see."

"Also, you might like to know that Primarch Victus wishes to include the krogan in the summit."

"That is preposterous!" Councillor Tevos cried. "Does he think we will gain anything by asking the krogan to join us?"

"It is worth trying at least, don't you think, Councillor?"

"As you know, Dr. T'soni, the asari have been on this path before with horrible results. I'm afraid it is madness to try and get those three species to fight together!"

"Commander Shepard—"

"Your bondmate is a capable woman, Doctor, but even she isn't capable of miracles." Councillor Tevos crossed her arms. "If the primarch insists that the krogan join your summit, then I am afraid that the asari will not be sending a representative."

"If I may speak freely, Councillor?" Liara did not pause to wait for a reply. "I just came back from a battlefield and I have just witnessed the deaths of many turian soldiers fighting to keep the Reapers at bay so that for another day, Palaven continues to stand, continues to be a beacon of hope for these turian warriors. Now, this number is infinitesimal against the Reapers' vast genocide of our civilization. For every second you waste your breath on me, millions of lives out there are crushed under the cruel weight of those damnable creatures and their uncompromising demands. Do you really think that the asari have a chance at winning this war on their own? Have the pompous pretenses of our species' superiority blinded you to the reality that this war cannot be won unless we discard our bloated prides and ask each other for help?

"Tell me, what is the purpose of the Council when it cannot even acknowledge the fact that in order for there to be galactic peace and stability, the galaxy must rise as one against this abominable threat? What is the purpose of the Council when its leaders are too busy arguing over which of its territories should be saved as a thinly veiled attempt to postpone the inevitable confrontation with the fact that the Reapers are here, our galaxy needs a saviour, and not one of you are up to the task?" Liara narrowed her eyes. "Your actions of late have disgusted me. Your inability to see what is clearly before you, even more so. If you do not wish to provide help, then so be it. I will seek help elsewhere."

The hologram sputtered and winked out before the asari councillor could think of an appropriate response. Liara, who had spent most of her energy being increasingly angry at the councillor, braced her hands against the control panel. "By the Goddess."

"Are you alright, Liara?" Shiala asked, putting an arm around the younger asari's shoulders.

"I feel like I should be very guilty right now for unsuccessfully winning over the support of the Asari Republic," Liara murmured and took a deep breath. "But instead, I feel fine—happy even."

"I think chewing out your elders is a great stress-reliever for you."

"Still, I shouldn't have done that."

"Do you think the councillor would have seen reason and decided to help your cause later on?"

"Only if by some random happenstance, Shepard manages to save those three idiots a second time." Liara tilted her head to smile wryly at Shiala. "Perhaps I should enlist some of our agents to kidnap the councillors and have Shepard save the day, thus giving them a reason to finally follow her. I hear an attempt on one's life usually compels an individual into action."

Shiala chuckled and shook her head. "Isn't that a little too convenient? I highly doubt the Council would fall at your commander's feet and willingly aid her after such an attempt on their lives."

"Wishful thinking I suppose," Liara admitted. "If there was some way I could get the asari to help—ah, but I suppose it is too late."

"If I may put forth a suggestion?" At Liara's nod, Shiala continued, "Watching you talk to the councillor stirred old memories in me. It was as if the matriarch was standing beside you, guiding you, telling you what to say—an old matron's folly, I know. Matriarch Benezia is dead, and you are your own person. But you do have her charisma, and perhaps you can use that charisma to win over some of her former followers, particularly those who hold key positions in our government. It is not much, but at least it's a start."

"That is a tempting suggestion," Liara said weakly, stunned by the other asari's words. "Do you really think I can convince them?"

Shiala squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "You are capable of many things, Liara." She paused and turned her gaze away, her eyes distant as she witnessed an old memory. "And you have something that Matriarch Benezia did not have when she chose to stop Saren."

"I do?"

"A bond so strong that it must have been inscribed in the stars by the goddess Athame herself." Shiala smiled sadly at her companion. "A bond that will give you purpose and keep you from straying from your path. If the matriarch had made one mistake it was that she distanced herself from the one person who could have kept her from succumbing to the darkness: you."


OMAKE: In which our favourite turian wishes to know more about a certain human joke...

~ SpaceBatman began pestering JShepard ~

SpaceBatman: What's up, Shep? Are you busy?

SpaceBatman: Shep? Are you there?

SpaceBatman: Oh well, I guess you're too busy talking to your scientists or saving some part of the galaxy again. I get it. Hero business. Been there, done that.

SpaceBatman: So...I have a question. What does it mean when a husk starts screaming 'brains' at you? James said it was a human joke. I was just wondering, you know? Maybe you can tell me sometime? When you're not extremely busy?

JShepard: Sorry. Didn't see your comment there.

JShepard: ...Was busy doing calibrations.

SpaceBatman: ...Not funny.

JShepard: :P

JShepard: I hope this answers your question.

~ JShepard sent SpaceBatman shaunofthedead(.wmv) ~

SpaceBatman: Really, Shepard? Really? Can't you find one with a better file format at least?

JShepard: Sorry. Still kind of busy. Talk to you later?

SpaceBatman: Alright, alright. I suppose I have my own calibrations to do.

SpaceBatman: ;)

~ SpaceBatman ceased pestering JShepard ~